New audio-video formats have a definite lifespan and that lifespan is getting increasingly short as "convergence" becomes more and more of a factor in consumer electronics. As Dr. Ken Taraszka pointed out in his January 2009 look at the current state of high-definition adult home video content, pornographers, who without an argument have shaped the rise of VHS and DVD-Video, are starting to look past Blu-ray towards various levels of HD video downloads via the Internet. Netflix is offering downloads to "future-proof" their booming business model for a day with no discs. Apple's iTunes is selling movies by the millions and delivering them not just to iPods, but also to iPhonesand Apple TVs and then networking them wirelessly around the home.
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It's looking more and more like the commercial viability of the disc is coming to an end sometime soon. The commercial viability of music on vinyl records lasted conservatively from the 1950s to the advent of the compact disc, easily 40-plus years. The cassette tape was a musical market force from the 1960s through the late 1980s, lasting about 30 years, if not a little longer. VHS, after its hard-to-forget victory over Beta, launched the home theater market and lasted from the late 1970s until the advent of DVD-Video nearly 20 years later. The compact disc's rise to stardom was nothing short of miraculous. However, its commercial viability lasted about 25 years, despite the fact that the four major labels still amazingly push the low-res CD as their best-quality musical offering for current and back catalog offerings. DVD-Video took the baton from VHS and for a solid 10 years helped make home theater score much better-looking video and increasingly high-definition surround sound tracks. Even the sometimes overlooked laserdisc had a solid 10-year run with home theater enthusiasts.
Don't get me started on SACD
, as it can be argued that they were never commercially viable - thank you very much, record labels. Over time, the lifespan of an AV format has roughly halved itself since the 1950s, leaving HD and home theater enthusiasts wondering what's in store for the industry-leading Blu-ray format. With Blu-ray having won the nasty format war with the Toshiba/Microsoft-backed HD DVD, there seems to be one more disc format left for consumers to embrace, for good reason. 1080p video trounces anything that a 480i resolution DVD-Video disc can offer, even to the untrained eye or mainstream consumer at Wal-Mart or Costco. DTS Master Audio and Dolby True HD surround formats are easily superior and noticeably better than anything found on DVD-Video, and Blu-ray is gaining market prominence, thanks to power-packed titles like The Dark Knight and Iron Man.
Read more about Blu-ray's endangered future on Page 2.
Rental support from the likes of Netflix and one-cable connectivity via HDMI only
add to the Blu-ray argument, yet today DVD-Video still enjoys 91 percent market penetration in the United States. Even with the widespread popularity of Sony's Playstation 3 and cheaper and faster-loading Blu-ray players, the Blu-ray format is working towards 20 percent market penetration, while the next format is starting to poke its head out from the sand. Downloaded files and ready-to-watch HD content are already on the scene, yet they currently don't offer anywhere near the performance that Blu-ray does. The home theater servers needed for the consumer to harness and manage these files are not as consumer-friendly as one would like, yet the big impediment to the rise of downloads is the lackluster speeds of today's Internet. The question today is whether consumers will be wooed to the convenience of downloads to their phones and computers at lower resolutions, as they were by Apple's iPod and iTunes, sacrificing of higher-resolution and better-sounding audio and video on Blu-ray.
The answer is likely to be determined by how quickly content providers can bridge the gap between the performance of a Blu-ray disc and an HD download. If your cable company can provide you 2000 top movies in 1080p video and in 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound that stream to your DVR just like downloading a QuickTime video on your computer today, Blu-ray is doomed. Realistically, this kind of bandwidth is coming someday, but it won't be here for most Americans any time soon. The solution for most home theater enthusiasts
is capable Blu-ray players costing as little as $200 and Blu-ray discs costing about as much as a DVD-Video disc and/or low-cost Blu-ray disc rentals. Blu-ray is a meaningful and powerful format in 2009 and will likely remain so for at least five years into the future.
With very slick servers like Apple TV and DVRs and media servers able to download and manage all sorts of audio and video files, the temptation to experiment with the world of HD downloads will likely be too hard to resist, even if the bandwidth isn't where it needs to be to make media servers meet the full potential of our display devices. At the end of the day and in the middle of a deep economic recession, an enthusiast can have the best of both media formats for under $1,000 total investment. I'll never forget watching my Dad pop for a $1,200 VHS machine in 1979, plus a number of VHS movies at over $100 a title. Adjusted for inflation, the kind of HD content that you can have driving your home theater system today is not just eye and ear candy for your enjoyment - it's a stone cold bargain.